Last "Friedman" in Iraq Was the Worst So Far

A "Friedman," you will recall, is a unit of time. It is the "decisive" six month period during which the United States either wins or loses in Iraq.

Made famous - or infamous - by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the decisive six month period has confronted us many times, according to a tally by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, which back in May 2006 counted no less than 14 instances between November, 2003 and May, 2006 in which Friedman predicted the next 6 months would be decisive.

Of course, such predictions flourish best in an environment where no-one looks back on them.

The jury is in on the last "Friedman,"McClatchy Newsreports, and for U.S. troops, it's the worst so far:

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Senator Edwards responds to DFA members

Senator John Edwards wants you to know where he stands on Iraq.

Last month, Democracy for America members petitioned the presidential candidates to oppose any escalation of the Iraq War, demand a swift end to the occupation, and propose a plan that brings our brave men and women home. We delivered over thirty thousand signatures and comments to every candidate and asked them to respond.

Senator Edwards took time to shoot a video response to you and we are excited to make it available today:

http://www.democracyforamerica.com/edwar dsresponse

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Needed: A Line in the Sand on Iraq

In the Progressive Convulsions Start, I outlined what I perceive as the growing frustration that progressive leaders and Democrats at large have with Congressional inaction on Iraq.  Whether it is 'liberal thinkers' calling progressives 'children', or Carl Levin talking of military options against Syria, or the immediate negative reaction to Russ Feingold's attempt to defund the war, there's a simmering anger within the public at large.  Consider that last night, Harry Reid, out of deference to Senate tradition, said on Charlie Rose that he will not consider using Congress's power of the purse to end the war (for a war he unlike most Democratic Senators doesn't regret authorizing).  His approval ratings in the netroots are slipping dramatically, and he is much less popular in his home state than his counterpart, John Ensign.

The progressive caucus, which represents a group of people who have been neutered since 1994, is waking up a bit out of its slumber.  Here's Congressman Jerry Nadler in the New York Times validating what Raw Story reported last week:

"Nothing is going to happen unless we use the power of the purse," said Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York. "It's time to draw a line in the sand."

I agree with Chris's point about framing this as a 'fully funded withdrawal', though the communications question is not the issue that is genuinely crippling us as a movement. At this point, the problem is the tremendous disconnect between the outside public and the machinations going on in Congress.  It's very difficult to find out who thinks what, because no one's cards are on the table.  It's hard to organize against the war because it's difficult to figure out how to put pressure against the right people on the supplemental coming this month.

As Chris has noted, this is dangerous for the Democratic Party.  There's an interesting dynamic playing out here, one you can see in Barack Obama's high approval ratings with liberal Democrats and independent voters in New Hampshire versus Hillary Clinton's high approval ratings among conservative Democrats.  Obama, who is more and more staking out progressive territory (not boldly, but he is going there), is appealing to a group of independent voters that are increasingly sympathetic to liberalism. This makes sense.  Conservatism has died, intellectually speaking.  After watching New Orleans in tatters, Iraq in flames, and a government engulfed in corruption, the Republican brand is gone.  And yet the Democratic brand, while slightly improved, is not sparkling with dynamism.  

Independent voters, looking at the landscape, get that government needs to be there for them in emergencies, but they are also unwilling to associate themselves with an old Democratic brand.  Given a real choice of a party committed to liberal values, though, they will.  In 2006, prior to Lamont's victory in the primary, for instance, 30,000 voters joined the Democratic Party.    Poverty, global warming, corruption, corporate misbehavior, imperalism - these are all themes that resonate more than the Reaganite/Rambo antitax crusade of the last 40 years.

This energy could be captured by the progressive movement, or it could be captured by another set of actors.  In 1992, young voters spiked participation rates in the election, only to drop down to historically low levels in 1994.  Right now, the disconnect between progressives in Congress and those outside is stark.  Anti-escalation measures are passing all over the country - this war is hated, but there is almost no awareness of how the debate is shaping up within the Democratic Party in Congress.  The centrists are in control of the debate, which is their prerogative (and why Rahm Emanuel, who is in charge of House messaging, has allowed the bad framing to continue).  If the outside energy cannot work through the primary process within the Democratic Party, it will work through Naderite type candidates or a populist anti-war anti-trade anti-immigrant Perotista.

So what outside groups need is, as Congressman Nadler said, a 'line in the sand'.  That line is Murtha's plan.  If members of Congress are not going to protect the troops and are not going to work to end the war, that's a voting issue for the public.  We can't though vote on the war within the primary system if we don't know who stands where.  So Murtha's plan should be brought to a vote, and voted down so the public can know where their representatives stand.  Is Ellen Tauscher really that bad?  Well where does she stand on the Murtha plan?  Or Henry Cuellar, a whip in the Democratic caucus?  Or any other members?  We don't know, because they don't have to make the choice publicly.

They should.  Progressives should demand a vote on the Murtha plan.  Winning the vote is not the important goal - ending the war, which can only happen with an organized public putting pressure on Congress, the media and the new President, is the goal.  But we need something to organize around.  We need that line in the sand.

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What is up with Carl Levin?

I was initially really excited that Carl Levin would be in a position of power in the Senate, but after reading his statements over the past few months, it's become clear that he doesn't get it on Iraq.  Here he is on Meet the Press today.

Things have changed in Iraq. We don't believe that it's going to be possible to remove all of our troops from Iraq because there's going to be a limited purpose that they're going to need to serve, including a training, continued training of the Iraqi army, support for logistics in the Iraqi army, a counterterrorism purpose or a mission because there's about 5,000 al-Qaida in Iraq.

There are two problems here.  First of all, he ratifies the right-wing talking point that we're in Iraq because of Al Qaeda.    More significantly, by saying that Bush needs to keep troops in Iraq, he's giving Bush carte blanche.  There is no pony plan here.  Bush is leading our forces, and he will until 2009.

Surely, though, Levin gets this, and would specific limits on troop withdrawals.  Well, not exactly.  This is a response to a question where Russert asks how many troops should be taken out by next March.

I don't want to put a specific number on it because that really should be left to the commanders who decide how many would be needed to carry out those limited functions.

So Levin wants to make sure that Bush can keep as many troops in Iraq as is necessary to carry out limited functions, a clear delegation of power to Bush.  But it's even worse - Levin doesn't want to use the only Congressional leverage that actually exists - funding.  And he doesn't want to use it for disgraceful reasons.

Most of us do not want to cut funding for our troops for two reasons. One is it's wrong. Our troops deserve our support as long as they're there, and we're not going to repeat the mistake of Vietnam where we took out on the troops our differences over policies with the administration.

Democrats need to stop equating funding the war with supporting the troops.  By arguing that Democrats cannot morally use the power of the purse, Levin is expressing a preference to sending our troops into Iraq underequipped and led by an entirely politicized and incompetent civilian leadership.

This strategy needs to change.  Senator Levin is a smart man, but his framing is playing to the right.

UPDATE: Kagro X makes a related point.

UPDATE: Levin isn't wrong that Al Qaeda is in Iraq, but Bush will not use our military forces in Iraq to go after Al Qaeda no matter how much Levin asks.

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Blue Dogs Sabotage Murtha

Last week, I wrote that a few of the key obstacles to ending the war are Blue Dogs,, Harry Reid and Rahm Emanuel.  The Washington Post reports:

"If you strictly limit a commander's ability to rotate troops in and out of Iraq, that kind of inflexibility could put some missions and some troops at risk," said Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.), who personally lodged his concerns with Murtha.

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"Congress has no business micromanaging a war, cutting off funding or even conditioning those funds," said Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), a leading Democratic moderate, who called Murtha's whole effort "clumsy."

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"I think Congress begins to skate on thin ice when we start to micromanage troop deployments and rotations," said Texas's Edwards, whose views reflect those of several other Democrats from conservative districts.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) pointed out that Democrats still have public opinion strongly on their side and that a vote on any plan would place Republicans in more jeopardy than Democrats. A new, more restrictive authorization for the war also is gaining serious consideration in the House, Emanuel noted.

Chet Edwards and Jim Cooper are both Blue Dogs from Southern districts, so I get that they aren't going to be outfront on liberal issues.  But what they are saying here is not only arguing that Bush ought to continue the war, but reaffirms all the right-wing tropes.  Murtha's plan endangers the troops.  Don't tie the hands of the Commander-in-Chief.  There's talk of passing the Murtha plan, but giving waivers to Bush to deploy non-combat ready troops.  I told you - not serious.  And then there's this.

But that approach may be all but dead, according to several Democratic lawmakers. Murtha doomed his own plan in part by unveiling it on a left-wing Web site, inflaming party moderates.

I don't know if I believe that, as Post reporters Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman are kind of crappy.  But I'm sure this argument is at least being used within the House.  Look, if you want to know why the Democratic brand has problems, it's because Blue Dogs are always reaffirming right-wing frames, and idiots like Rahm Emanuel are talking to reporters about what's popular as opposed to what needs to happen to end the war.  It's important to note that now the House wants to move to where the Senate is, which is to rewrite the Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

I got some flack last week for saying that the Democratic leadership, in particular Harry Reid, isn't really serious about ending the war.  Scott Lemieux, Matt Yglesias, and Steven Benen all disagreed with my assertion because they argued that Reid couldn't pass the nonbinding resolution.  Eric Alterman even labeled me one of many lazy reporters for asserting that Reid wasn't serious about ending the war.  One of Reid's spokespeople called me up pretty upset that I would dare assert something like this.  

Of course, I didn't argue that Reid should have passed the resolution.  I said that his priorities are misplaced.  He never did the work to force the Republicans to vote on the war, giving them the easiest possible out.  Rather than deal with Iraq, Reid let the Senate go into recess. Rather than put up an initial strong position, defunding the war, he started with a fig leaf and McConnell smacked him around.  

And let's be real.  This talk of authorization is coming from Joe Biden, and while I agree with it, it's only a starting point which will only get worse as McConnell takes a whack at it.  Already the House is moving from Murtha's hard stance to the Senate's position.  This is soft negotiating.  Do you really think, if Reid couldn't get a nonbinding resolution through, that he's going to be able to get a rewrite of the AUMF through?  Of course not.  He needs to task for more.  Reid should demand the Murtha plan.  That will push the Blue Dogs back in the House, and actually give us a real shot of restricting Bush's power.  Reid can't pass it, of course, but that was never the point.  If you start with defunding, maybe you can get to rewriting the AUMF with some cession of the escalation.  If your main fight is over the AUMF, I don't see how you get there.  In other words, where you start dictates where you finish.  And Reid has chosen to put his priorities somewhere other than ending the war.

That's fine.  That's who he is.  But let's stop having illusions about the conservative Democratic leadership in Congress.  I mean, Yglesias, Lemieux, Alterman and Benen seem to have an awful lot of confidence that the Democratic docility of the last twenty years, the docility that caused Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid to sabotage Ned Lamont, has suddenly changed.  I'm still looking for evidence.  Chet Edwards, Jim Cooper, and Rahm Emanuel are problems in this debate, and they need to be primaried.  So is Harry Reid, and Joe Biden.  I'd like some progressives to step up and go after these people publicly, because it's time to fight to end the war, and push the ball down the field.

As for us, let's get rid of our illusions.  Democrats in the House and Senate will move only if we move them.  As of now, they are laughing at us openly, and I will point you to Reid's clumsy misleading statements about his obvious role in the Fox News debacle, and his lack of concern about our extremely reasonable demand not to give Fox News legitimacy.  If he's so disdainful of Democrats on something so trivial, what makes you think he's serious about Iraq, an issue he really doesn't want to touch.  It's time to get to work.

UPDATE: Chet Edwards is not a Blue Dog.

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